Out on drive in the African bush one may see hundreds, if not thousands of trees that have fallen. Trees ring-barked by elephants, disabling them from receiving nutrients to vital parts or trees that have aged naturally or succumbed to lightning strikes delivered by a summer storm. All of these trees have lost their green appearance and died. They have become skeletons of their previous existence.
Yet even though they are dead they can still possess so much life. Small mammals and reptiles seek refuge amongst the broken branches and trunk. Birds bore holes and utilize them for nesting, and from the photographer’s point of view they become an aid in achieving spectacular images of predators perched up on their trunks.
Dead trees lack foliage and can provide very clean photographs with little distractions, whatever the subject may be.
Leopards in particular represent the pinnacle of a dead-tree photographic sighting. All the rangers have specific trees around Londolozi where we dream about finding a leopard. Some of these dreams come true and others remain unrealized. I have been very fortunate to find leopards in dead trees, trees that myself and others dream about. Often when returning to camp after game drive, you mention to your colleagues that you were lucky to find a particular leopard in a certain area and even luckier to see it climb a tree, you might get the jealous comment of “…Don’t tell me she was in that dead tree…”
Enjoy the following scenes on the photographic potential of dead trees…
A vantage point in a dead Weeping Boer Bean with no facial obstruction allows the Ingrid dam female to look out for any potential threat that may harm her cub.
She is occasionally seen around the far north west corner of Londolozi, and is generally quite relaxed around vehicles.
A dead knobthorn that hangs over a waterhole near camp provides a safe haven for these grooming baboons.
One of the Tatowa female’s cub stares back at us from a vantage point while comfortably settled on a dead marula.
The Tatowa female was one of a litter of three females born in early 2012 to the Ximpalapala female of the north.
The ubiquitous tree agama, who as its name suggests, spends the vast majority of its time in an arboreal setting, whether the tree be alive or dead.. Photograph by Simon Smit
The Tamboti female on a fallen marula. Sometimes it seems that leopards climb trees just for the heck of it. Photograph by James Tyrrell
A golden-tailed woodpecker creates a cloud of sawdust as she taps away at the branch of a tree, foraging for food. Dead trees may still contain insects and grubs under their bark; a treasure trove for insectivorous birds. Photograph by Amanda Ritchie
The Ingrid dam female climbed this dead Schotia tree before her cub thought it was a good idea to join her mother on the highest point.
The open grasslands of the south western parts of Londolozi are relatively flat and therefore a fallen over tree is usually the best vantage point for the resident male cheetah
The Ingrid dam female’s cub rests on a dead tree while staring back at her mother a few meters above her.
Vultures, like this whitebacked individual, will invariably roost or land in dead trees. Trees that are still living and still have all their small branches and foliage are simply too cluttered for birds with large wingspans to land in.
A male cheetah climbs a dead knob thorn to scan his surrounds before the light fades for the evening. Photograph by James Tyrrell.
Wahlberg’s eagles – amongst other eagle species – also favour dead trees to sit in due to their unobstructed landing potential. Photograph by James Tyrrell
Comfortably settled on a dead branch, the Ingrid dam female’s cub thought that on top of her mother was possibly a better position.
A rock monitor peers out from his hole in a dead leadwood. While large predators often display themselves conspicuously on dead trees, the smaller creatures use them as hiding places. Photograph by James Tyrrell
A clean background is often achievable with dead trees. No branches or leaves obstruct the view of this male cheetah.
Although not as great climbers as leopards, lions may venture up fallen over trees. The angle of the tree makes the climb easier and the vantage point is ideal when scanning for large prey items among the long grasses of summer. In this case the Sparta pride was simply in a playful mood. Photograph by James Tyrrell.
The Tamboti female and her cub. A herd of impala over a ridge in the distance was only able to be seen by utilizing the height of this dead marula.
The Tamboti female inhabited the south-eastern sections of Londolozi, having a large part of her territory along the Maxabene Riverbed.